In this Sunday’s Gospel passage from Matthew, Jesus enunciates to his hearers “The Two Greatest Commandments”— LOVE OF GOD AND LOVE OF NEIGHBOR.
“The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.”
In the Gospel of Luke (10), Jesus actually tackles the question, “Who is my neighbor?” in the story of “The Good Samaritan.” But here in Matthew he simply declares the two great commandments: Love of God and Love of Neighbor. It’s just there naked like, “Do Good and Avoid Evil!” Without the parable about “the man who fell in with robbers,” we are sort of left on our own to imagine the particulars of two commandments that he declares to be the greatest of all.
Well, let me offer another story—not a parable, but a true story: A few years ago one of our parishioners shared that this gospel passage reminded her of a 97-year-old neighbor lady who had expressed missing her previous level of involvement and social life, wishing that she could do more. Lo and behold soon after their visit, the same parishioner (along with her husband) received an invitation from the “near centenarian” to come over and meet the new neighbors who had just moved in on the other side of the lady’s house. Liking the new neighbors very much, she just thought it would be great to introduce them, so she got “all dressed up” and hosted a little gathering that brought old timers and new together. I ask you, do you think God was smiling about this or what? If 97 is still a very acceptable age to set a good example about how to live the two greatest commandments, what must God be expecting of us who have “a few more rows to hoe before we sell the farm”?
By Jesus saying that the whole law and the prophets are dependent on The Two Great Commandments, he is implying that you cannot form a law or be prophetic (deliver God’s message), without including, in some way, love of God and love of neighbor. Indeed, scrolls upon scrolls of Jewish laws (rivaling the contents of any lawyer’s law library), would make no sense without God and God’s people in relationship; just so, the deliverance of God’s word by the prophets would make no sense without the presumption of God as the speaker and the people as those who are expected to live out his message in community with one another. It all depends on those two great commandments! No escaping it.
I have quipped of late, when feeling particularly exhausted, “I don’t like people anymore. And if there are any in heaven, I don’t want to go there.” –I usually get a good laugh. The statement is ridiculous, stupid about heaven, and just incongruous enough to cause laughter. I also get, “But you’re a priest! You can’t be serious!” No, I’m not serious. But haven’t there been some days for you when . . . .? I also wonder if the people who have 35 cats and no longer talk to people, also believe that when they die and go to heaven, there will only be his or herself and cats in heaven. (Now, that would be hell for me. I’m allergic!)
Neither man nor woman is an island. We are inextricably in it together! SO . . . let’s look at it in another way. How about—You and I are on this earth to save each other—we are literally each other’s path to salvation and heaven!
Wow! YOU have suddenly become enormously important to me! So, we can become impressed that the WHOLE law and the prophets depends on the two great commandments, but wait, that was so then—and this is now—it is actually you and I who are completely dependent on LOVE OF GOD BY LOVE OF NEIGHBOR. Most often, we don’t think about this when we decide to help another in need—help lift someone out of depression, lend a shoulder, or help dig out from the ashes—but in fact it is literally our salvation. Next time then, don’t hesitate to say to a neighbor (or your spouse)—“Hey, you’re supposed to be saving me. Get busy!”
So much of living the Good News, then, and of living Love of God and Love of Neighbor is a matter of using our God-given gift of imagination. Kudos to the 97-year-old lady who did just that! Where would our imaginations take us in order to do the same?